I Heard It Through the Grapevine

February 16, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Valentine’s Day was Friday – that is like so last week.

Because I used to love her, but it’s all over now, baby blue. Still,, we have to ask what becomes of the broken-hearted? When they’re down and troubled and need a helping hand, have they got a friend? The answer seems to be yes, but only for a couple of days.

Facebook has been publishing some research they’ve done on their big data, particularly on relationships.  The day after Valentine’s day, they published a graph showing the change in FB interactions* that people have in the month before and after a break-up.** (The full post is here.)

The baseline (1.0)  is the average interaction activity for an individual. For some, that 1.0 might mean 2 interactions per day, for others 20 or 200. What the graph shows is the change relative to that baseline. 

Most obviously, a breakup is the occasion for a huge increase in FB activity – more than triple the usual amount.  Presumably, these are heartfelt expressions of support and sympathy from FB friends. But the sentiment, or at least its expression on Facebook, is short-lived – a huge dropoff after the first day. Apparently FB friends think anyone can have another you by tomorrow.  Or maybe these were not the “desert-island, all time, top five most memorable split-ups” of High Fidelity. Whatever. In a few days, the interaction level is back to what it was the day before the breakup. How come u don’t message me any more?

The other interesting pattern is the slight increase in the two days before the break up and the generally elevated level – about 50% higher –  in the month after. The Facebook researchers do not provide any specific content (they are using anonymous, aggregate data – damn), so we don’t know whether the newly decoupled are looking to start new romances or whether they just have more time for general online sociability. 

* Interactions included the “number of messages they sent and received, the number of posts from others on their timeline and the number of comments from others on their own content.”  

** To be in the breakup sample, people had to have been “in a relationship” for at least for weeks and then changed that relationship status. 

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